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greg smileBy Donna Griffin

A touch here.

A quick tug there.

Hands that smooth.

A perfect dance of effortless, efficient care and a palpable bond of mutual love and need.

Communication – raw, honest and genuine.

Parenting in its most selfless, graceful form.

When our PBS News Hour team of Student Reporting Labs teachers and mentor headed out to Chevy Chase, Maryland yesterday, we had only the most basic information to craft a profile for our assignment during the teacher workshop. Our advance information and research revealed a rough outline of a mother with a son who needed constant attention and care for cerebral palsy. A working title, “The Fantastic Duo.”

I think of them now as Amazing Greg and his super hero mom.

“We know each other in a way that doesn’t need words,” Patty Hooke said.

We thought the focus would be on Patty’s tireless diligence in advocating for her son, and her unwavering attention to his progress. Greg’s condition would preclude any chance to interview the young man.

But my fellow educators Bernadine Judson and Kris Doran, along with mentor Jacki Romey, soon found out, what his mother already knew.

“Greg knows a lot more than he lets on.”

He used a sly, engaging well-timed smile, a burp to make any 17-year-old proud, and a sense of humor to bring the adults to the point of tears – from amusement, not sympathy.

No “woe is me” for the Hooke family. Patty has had the “there’s nothing more we can do talk” from doctors when both her twin sons were infants. Matt, her older son by four minutes, had to have surgery soon after his birth and both he and his younger brother contracted viral pneumonia while only weeks old. Matt recovered both from the surgery and the pneumonia, but Greg’s health worsened with a second onslaught of the disease.

“They called me from the hospital and told me I needed to come,” Patty said of that day in 1998. “So they finally let me see him and the whole room filled with nurses and doctors, the lights were dimmed and he was covered with tubes and wires every which-way and he was laying on a kind of a platform. The only part of his body that didn’t have a wire attached was his calf. I went to Greg and held him there and within 5 seconds everything started to work.”

That simple touch 17 years ago forged a symbiotic bond evident in a dance of everyday moments during the three and a half hours we filmed July 21.

“Greg has a wonderful sense of humor. If I do sit down and talk to him, his way of communicating is so expressive. If I’m not feeling all that chipper, he will lift me up and that’s because I see something in his smile.”

Matt defied the doctor’s diagnosis only a month after he was born, and is now a healthy soon-to-be-senior. Patty, along with her husband, Jeff, fought the good fight for Greg, initially clinging to the hope of a miracle cure, then eventually becoming an informed, determined advocate for her son’s medical care.

“I try to look beyond what Greg can’t do, to keep positive and say, ‘If he can’t do that, maybe he can do this,” Patty said.

Spending the morning with Greg and Patty, all of the PBS NewsHour SRL team were affected by Greg’s sense of humor and spirit.

We came in on a summer workshop assignment and left behind new friends and a renewed perspective on the daily challenges that define our lives.

Henry David Thoreau said, “People live lives of quiet desperation.”

They also create lives of small miracles and build amazing worlds within their walls.

“My word to describe Greg is amazing; he never ceases to amaze me,” Patty said. “I find I learn every day through him and about him.”

Meet Patty and Greg in our PBS News Hour SRL report, “A Smile is Worth A Thousand Words” to be published on YouTube soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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